Michael J. Totten has surged way ahead in the voting online for the best Middle East weblog. The way he has done this is very instructive and tells us something about how the Neoconservatives always run rings around the American left and leave them with nothing to do but complain about Neoconservative power.
First, Totten demonized me and mobilized rightwingers in general and right-Zionists in particular to vote for him as a way of voting against Informed Comment.
One way he did this was to take a leaf from Karl Rove’s campaign book. I had written that lead 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta wrote his will and testament, an implicit dedication to seeking martyrdom, in response to the 1996 Israel Grapes of Wrath attack on Lebanon. During Grapes of Wrath, the Israeli air force committed a massacre of civilians at a UN refugee station that no one in the UN thinks was an accident. The sight of those innocent, bloody children being pulled out of the rubble angered many in the Muslim world.
Pulitzer-prize winning author Lawrence Wright wrote in his Looming Tower, p. 307: “On April 11, 1996, when Atta was twenty-seven years old, he signed a standardized will he got from the al-Quds mosque.l It was the day Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation grapes of Wrath. According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged,and by filling out his last testament during the attack he was offering his life in response.”
In my initial posting I had misremembered one detail, which is that the will was signed when Operation Grapes of Wrath began, not on the day of the Qana massacre. I corrected that within a few hours. But my over-all point was correct. Totten is still fulminating as though I had said something preposterous, and indeed, is using my quite legitimate point to suggest, as he has written around to others, that I am an “imbecile.” It is dishonest of him not to acknowledge the Wright quote, which I have provided.
My larger point is that Israeli atrocities in Gaza are endangering American security. If the Israeli operation were something other than a cynical power play that almost wholly disregards civilian welfare, then the US would be right to support it and damn the consequences. But it is a shame to place our land and even our democracy in danger on behalf of a barbaric military operation.
These tactics ot Totten remind me very much of what Bush and Rove did to John Kerry in 2004, when Kerry complained that Bush had allowed Osama Bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora. Bush trotted out some military weasels to deny it all and then indicted Kerry for lack of patriotism. And he mobilized his base, and he won.
So that’s how you do it. 1) You assassinate the character of your opponent. 2) You make his correct statements into a liability by propagandizing that they are false or unpatriotic. And 3) you mobilize a base of single-issue true believers that you can depend on to dominate the discourse because most people don’t care and are not invested.
And that is how, having helped Obama win the 2008 election, the American left will still be marginalized and likely will gradually be supplanted in his counsels by rightwing organizations such as AIPAC, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (headed by Dennis Ross), the American Enterprise Institute, and so forth. They are good at demonizing opponents, good at twisting the truth, and good at strategic networking; and too few people who oppose their views are willing to put themselves out in any way.
It isn’t material who wins that little weblog award. It is illuminating for our politics to see how they are accomplishing it.